Only Somewhat Real: A choice of attitude

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A choice of attitude

You have been thinking about Bruce Moen.

Yes indeed. He is dying or, for all I know, may be dead already. Naturally the news brings back memories.

And, perhaps, reminds you that the difference between “being used” and “gladly participating” is mostly a matter of the attitude one takes to it?

Sure, but I gather that you’re wanting to say something on the subject, and we’re all willing to be instructed.

So much in your lives depends less upon what happens than upon what you make of it. The prime decision you make at any given moment, in fact, is usually, “How do I see this thing that just happened?” The “thing” in question may be a physical event, or a memory, or anything that presents a choice of attitude. Forgiving may be a decision, or forgiving oneself. Taking heart, or ceasing to struggle. Putting another or oneself or an abstract cause first, may be another. The permutations are endless, but remember if you can, decisions look like decisions to do or not do some action, even if the action is to harbor or reject a thought or an accustomed idea. But really, decisions are you rebalancing the ballast, adjusting course. Most such adjustments are going to be minor, of course, but not all. And some that appear minor will in fact be seen later to have led to major consequences.

Viktor Frankl again.

Yes, because his experience and his testimony (by his life, not merely by his words) has weight. Has gravitas, as you like to say. Only, don’t thereby conclude that this is necessarily a grim aspect of reality. It can be, but mostly not. Most people don’t have to spend most of their time defying fate. But even for the happiest, most tranquil life, still it remains true that every moment presents a choice of attitude. One may be miserable in a palace, or contented, or ecstatically happy, and it is the same palace.

I seem to remember that it was the emperor / philosopher Marcus Aurelius who wrote – citing the advantages of his position, all that he had been blessed with, etc. – that he had counted the number of happy days he had had in his life and they amounted to five, or seven, or some such single-digit number. His conclusion was, don’t look for happiness on this Earth.

Our conclusion would be, don’t count your felicity by tallying external circumstances, nor consider yourself a neutral observer of your life.

Do you mean “neutral,” or “helpless”?

Actually, closer to powerless-to-affect-matters, however you would phrase that. The point is, he in his philosophic attitude toward his life was deciding the nature and meaning of the ups and downs of it. He may have been thinking he was applying philosophy to make the best of a bad situation – life! – or he may, more likely, have been saying, “Don’t expect life to be smooth and easy,” without any nuance of complaint. In a way, he was saying the same thing we are, that your attitude is the thing that is realest in your life.

A choice of possibilities

The specific application we wish to make of this general truth is that in choosing one’s attitude one really, not metaphorically, not theoretically, not in a  wishful-thinking way, determines what one’s life is going to be, to mean, to feel like, to – well, everything.

Poor structure there at the end, but your point comes through.

The specific application, the illustration, may be the way you and Bruce Moen met; what he had experienced before the fact; the agency of Ed Carter, etc., etc. When you look at that smooth blending of energies in a way that neither Bruce nor Ed nor you were aware of on a conscious 3D level, and when you trace backwards the events in all of your lives – and Bob Monroe’s life, and Ed Wilson’s – that were required in order to bring you together in that time and space, you can see the weaving of the web, and might easily conclude, “It was a set-up.” That is, you might draw the usual predestination argument, because you might say, “Given what you were, that’s what was going to happen.”

I’d be more inclined to say, “Given what we were, that’s what was enabled to happen if we played our parts right.”

And we would be inclined to say both, and also – more importantly – “That’s what was set up to happen, courtesy of your cooperation and the cooperation of so many others in your pasts, and it remained to be seen if you would all stay on script.” Only, improv doesn’t use scripts, it uses setups and sees what happens.

I get the strangest feeling, here. It’s that I sort of know what you’re driving at, and you are sort of saying it, but, in each case, not quite.

No, it’s slippery. Any time we attempt to bring in a fine nuance, it is actually harder than hitting you with your proverbial 2×4.

Harder because more slippery.

The recipient – you, and anyone who reads this – is likely to (mostly unconsciously) let the nuance slide into some already accustomed category. A radically new concept, you’ll have to accept or reject or at least ponder. A nuance may just keep sliding around.

So, trying again?

You choose how to receive what comes to you, easily seen when “what comes” seems to be external, less easily seen when it seems to be “merely” internal. You choose meaning. Some choose to see it as predestined, some as free-will, some as meaningless chance. Same event (physical or mental). We still haven’t quite succeeded in expressing it.

How about, “You choose viewpoint”?

Better. You have the ideas now, you try to say it.

If we look back on our life as lived to date, our present attitude toward it will incline us to see it in a certain light. If we are able to change our attitude, the same look, the same life, will present an entirely different profile, perhaps. More likely, many different profiles.

That’s it. It is a matter of changing perspectives by changing viewing-points. Same objective reality (so to speak) but many different scenes, different landscapes.


Well, a shift in viewpoint, anyway. No need to extend the metaphor. The operative point is that how you choose to see the workings of your life determines the possibilities you create for yourself. If you look at so much orchestration and consider yourself to be the acted-upon (rather than also the actor), it is easy to slip into victim mode. From victim mode, you will find evidence enough to persuade you that nothing you do will free you from the spider’s web, and that at best your meaning in your life is that you are food for the cosmic spider, so to speak. Or, if you look at it all and conclude that you are as integral a part in the play as anybody else, even if you don’t know your lines or don’t have any lines, you may easily feel included, and important (that is, not contingent or without meaning), and that attitude may lead you to either overestimate your role (inflation) or to treat your life with a little more seriousness, a little bit more self-respect.

So, Bruce and Ed Carter just happen to take the same program. They just happen to share the same two-person table at a meal. Ed just happens to have bought into Hampton Roads and gotten a few business cards. Bruce just happens to tell Ed something of what he has experienced, and just happens to mention that for no reason he could think of, he just happened to bring an article he had written about a retrieval he had done. Ed just happens to call me and suggest that I join them for breakfast Friday morning, as there is a potential author he’d like me to meet. And so on and so forth, and none of us having any idea what we were helping to orchestrate.

And this could be sketched out for all of you – for anybody and everybody – for your entire lives. Life is always orchestration and the dance. That isn’t the meaning (assuming, or rather, pretending for the moment, that there is a “the” meaning) of your lives. That is the improv, but what of your training and rehearsals, and your learning about your characters? What of the living-out of your life for yourself as well as for the improv in general? To weigh life fairly, you need keep all these factors in mind, if you can. It isn’t easy; it’s a lot of geese to juggle. That’s one reason why people often choose one or another position and disregard the rest.


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